If you went to Pitzer College’s McConnell Dining Hall Feb. 19, you might have noticed flags lining the windows and additional tables of diasporic food. The specially prepared Black History Month Annual Lunch was designed as a celebration of Black History Month, and centered food from black communities.
The event was originally conceived by the Pitzer Black Student Union, with the goal to showcase diasporic food and culture and to shed a light on the work of BSU, said Lydia Middleton, dean and director of the Office of Black Student Affairs.
“One of the things that I love about this event is that it drives a lot of student traffic our way,” Middleton said. Throughout the luncheon, students approached her table inside the dining hall to ask about the event and what else would be happening in celebration of Black History Month.
Students also reached out to dining hall staff to talk about all the distinct dishes.
“I like seeing all the flags around and got to talking to the [staff members] at each of the stations,” Charlie Stark PZ ’22 said.
With the crowded stations and music from rap artist Saweetie playing from the speakers, McConnell was truly transformed from a standard dining hall to a space of celebration.
“I noticed the lines were really long, and we noticed the music was different, a little louder today, contributing to the ambience,” Olivia Ison CM ’21 said.
Students from all the 5Cs flocked to the event, and there were no empty tables in sight.
“[The energy is] really lively. Even if you don’t think it reaches the bar of representing this community, there are a lot of people, there’s music, it’s a good time all around,” Adrian Ramos CM ’23 said. “I think there is a culture of focusing on school [at the 5Cs], [of] doing work at lunch, but when [students] come together for meals, it’s important that things feel alive.”
The menu for the meal included Jamaican lentil patties, fried chicken sliders, Southern blackened tofu, macaroni and cheese and Creole tofu sliders. The wider focus on diasporic cuisine was a new emphasis this year.
“The first year they did [the lunch], it was just food strictly from within the continental United States,” Middleton said. “Students wanted to see more diversity in things offered more globally. This year there is Ethiopian food and Nigerian food, so it’s really nice to see that a lot of different cultures and food offerings are available.”
Students agreed that experiencing new foods gave them insight into different cultures.
“I feel like food tells you a lot about someone’s identity,” Mandisa Keswa PO ’22 said. “A lot of times there is a personal level to food … [it] has to do with your childhood or some of the things that you grew up with … [so it brings] that kind of personal memory and a lot [of] the nostalgic memories that you have from food.”
Bella Fleming SC ’22 liked the event, but she had a more critical view of the association of food and culture, and the event’s attempt to represent an entire student body.
“I feel like it can [rely on] a stereotype, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing sometimes.”
Through food, McConnell was able to highlight different facets of black culture while bringing the 5C community closer together.
“I feel like food is second, behind music, [in contributing to culture] because it is the second most thing that is going to bring people together … it doesn’t matter what mood you’re in,” Ramos said. “If there is food, people are going to eat and you’re going to talk and create a close-knit community.”
A full list of further events celebrating Black History Month can be found here.